The Power of Purpose

The Power of Purpose


This word is important for both an individual and an organization. On an individual level, a calling is the driving force – moving through many roles – that brings meaning or deeper purpose to the totality of your work. I like to think of my calling as my True North. It captures how I put my unique background and skills to work to make a positive difference for others and realize more of my potential.

I recently read Jeff Goins’ The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do (Nelson Books, 2015). Better than any other book I have read on the subject, Goins articulates that a calling is unearthed not decided. Furthermore, finding and acting on a calling is work any of us can pursue. But to succeed, we must step beyond the fear of failing and reach for a larger life. We must also avoid looking backward with regret (versus to find lessons), as doing so saps one’s confidence in the potential for a better future. “Who cares what the future might’ve been. It doesn’t matter. It can’t be. This is where we are at, and this is where we’re going,” states one of the everyday people Goins profiles to effectively demonstrate the process of pursuing a calling.

While “the journey looks different for each person,” Goins identifies key themes that consistently emerge in the pursuit of a calling. Here rests the wisdom of the book. The steps on the proven path are:

  • Awareness that you can have a larger life and intuiting (from your experiences, reactions, and others’ comments) what life wants of you
  • Apprenticeship through people and experiences that give you a hint at your calling
  • Practice through intentional effort that teaches you new skills and ignites your inspiration
  • Discovery by taking steps that build a bridge towards your calling (versus a leap from one flying trapeze to another)
  • Professional, a period of growth in which you learn from failure and pivot past obstacles in order to act more forcibly and productively on your calling
  • Mastery in which you apply a calling to a portfolio of activities, some earning and some giving, some learning, and some teaching
  • Legacy in which you realize your calling is not just what you do but who you are as a person and what you are leaving behind to others

I cannot recommend this book more highly – for your college-aged children, recent grads, or for you, whether mid-career or ready to move to another career, retirement included. My marked-up copy is now in my 25-year old daughter’s hands.

As I read the book, I could not help but think of the parallels to an organization. All thriving organizations have a purpose or calling. And, like a young person, organizations can have a hard time nailing it down. The drive for survival can move attention from the long term to the short term and from purpose to profits. But organizations that listen for their unique purpose, discuss it regularly, and build a culture that acts on purpose achieve far more of their inherent potential than those that focus on financials alone. Apple, Inc. models how to shape culture to cause. It’s no wonder CEO Tim Cook topped Fortune’s 2015 Best CEOs list.

Goins makes a strong case that a calling is in service to others. So too is an organization’s purpose. It’s vital that in discussing purpose, leaders look past the “for-profit/non-profit” boundary in our minds. It’s not a real wall after all. And the market mechanism is at work on both sides; the distinction is merely about the use of profits.

To unearth organizational purpose and build a successful organization, look first to what a sizeable enough group sorely needs that your organization can best and ideally uniquely fulfill. Then design your organization to address this need.

Non-profits might find earned income approaches to fulfilling a need. Tom’s Shoes provides shoes to the developing world by selling shoes in the US, for example. For-profits might find profitable extensions of their capabilities to address social and environmental issues. The QTI Group, a staffing agency, worked with Goodwill in Milwaukee to place hard-to-employ workers with clients facing challenges in locating low-skilled workers. Unilever’s Lifebuoy magnifies the impact of its germ-killing soap by pursuing philanthropic activities that directly leverage its products and capabilities. It is improving global health and delivering an attractive bottom line.

What are you and your organization being called to do?
More articles by Kay Plantes

Kay Plantes is an MIT-trained economist, business strategy consultant, columnist and author. Business model innovation, strategic leadership and smart economic policies are her professional passions. She resides in San Diego, California but still considers Madison home. She is the author of Beyond Price.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WTN Media, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.